TISHOMINGO — Former Oklahoma Gov. William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray is something of a folk hero in this corner of southern Oklahoma.
Born in Toadsuck, Texas, Murray ran away from home at age 12 and worked on farms, then taught school, worked as a journalist and took an interest in Democratic politics. He moved here, married the daughter of the Chickasaw governor and became part of the tribal elite. Murray was part of the coalition trying to start a separate state of “Sequoyah.”
Later, he played a major role in drafting Oklahoma’s constitution and became the first Speaker of the Oklahoma House. That fame didn’t carry over to the 1910 governor’s race, which he lost, but he managed to get himself elected to the U.S. Congress, where he served from 1913 to 1917.
Murray, who has a small college, a county and even a fall bicycle ride named after him, lost his re-election bid and left the U.S. with relatives and friends to start a Utopian colony in Bolivia. He returned to Oklahoma during the Depression and his agrarian, anti-corporate, anti-rich mantra took hold. Oklahomans put him in the governor’s mansion in 1931.
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He may still have rock-star status here in Tishomingo, but his ratings on the University of Oklahoma campus in the 1930s were subpar, according to Volume 2 of David Levy’s book “The University of Oklahoma, A History.”
Murray campaigned as the poor, suffering underdog and took more than a few swipes at the rich elites studying in Norman. He was a known racist and sought to push through Jim Crow laws similar to other southern states.
He pledged to reduce OU’s enrollment, fire 30 percent of the faculty and make the rest punch a time clock. He proposed eliminating home-economics, physical education, ROTC and engineering. President Bizzell’s salary should be reduced, as should be those of deans, directors and department heads.
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According to Levy’s account, Murray wanted to fire Bizzell and the Regents that backed him.
He hired an investigator to find out whether there was any bootlegging or improper expenditures, such as padded travel expenses, on campus.
The governor then took on the College of Medicine over its refusal to allow chiropractors and osteopaths to see patients in university hospitals.
Another probe involved the infamous Deep Dark Mystery Club, a vigilante group of undergraduate men who regularly embarrassed the student body by harming other students whom they deemed guilty of trumped-up crimes.
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Such sideshow investigations were troubling on the campus, but the biggest headache came in fall 1933 when Gov. Murray decided to crack down on what he perceived as “counterfeit” football ticket sales. He declared the area around the stadium gates as a military zone, with 55 National Guardsmen dispatched to collect and save tickets from the OU-A&M game.
This was the same governor who carried a pistol onto a bridge over the Red River to keep it open. In all, Levy reported, Murray called out the National Guard 27 times and declared martial law in 34 separate cases.
A few weeks later, Levy wrote, with all tickets counted and compared, the National Guard said there was no counterfeiting.
The Transcript blasted him in an editorial, saying Murray’s latest witchhunt scandalized the university’s good name and humiliated the athletic department.
Murray left office in 1935, and a collective sigh was likely heard throughout the university community. He came back to the governor’s office to witness his son, Johnston Murray’s inauguration in 1951. He died in 1956 and his historical papers, ironically, are housed in OU’s Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center.